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The City and County of Washington Pennsylvania
Washington County Pennsylvania History and Families
Genealogy 101 - New to Research?
A list you can use to begin your family tree
New to Research?
Everyone begins genealogy for different reasons. Maybe you
became curious, or maybe someone asked you a question that caused you to
want to know (and explain) your family and their relationships? Maybe your
child had to do a family tree as a school project and you couldn't answer
many of their questions beyond yourself, your parents, and maybe your
grandparents? Whatever reason (and there are often several), you found
yourself searching the Internet for information. BUT, before you
start searching the WWW, where and how do you begin to record your
genealogy? This article will give you pointers about how to get
started, and things to think about.
What New Genealogists Need To Know First
By Judith Florian
New genealogists today, unlike even 10 years ago, have a
tremendous amount of information available for research. Yet, genealogies
from the Bible writers to present day all must begin at the same place:
recording what YOU know. But what does that statement mean?
The first thing to do when starting your genealogy hobby
is to take a blank notebook and write information, starting with who you
know first hand: you. On the top line, write your name, birth date.
Next, label each line with these items:
Where born (hospital name) with county and state;
Where baptized and date; primary school name;
Name of high school, city and state;
Name of college or other schooling, city and state;
Special awards won in school;
Sports played in school, or other activities, and awards;
Date married, where (church; JP) and by whom;
Full name of your spouse, county and state where you were married;
Name of Reverend or person who performed the marriage ceremony;
Church membership, if any; any roles you have in the church;
Clubs and memberships that you have;
Your occupation and job title;
Where do you currently work and how many years there;
Other employment; if you had many jobs, you can group them by type (Food
Service Worker, Cashier, Child Care Worker);
Awards or certificates related to your employment;
Your current interests and hobbies.
You can add more categories if you want.
Now, start a new page for your spouse and fill in the same
categories for him/her. Then, begin pages for each of your children,
starting with the oldest, and answer the same questions for each one.
It sounds tedious but imagine telling someone who
doesnít know you, in detail, who YOU are. Think about all the things
that make you unique. What are things that are most important to you? What
(or who) do you devote yourself to in your day to day life? Two men may
share a love of sports, but Joe loves baseball and coaches the first co-ed
team of youngsters in his county, while Mike is avid about football and
has never missed a Steelers game. These facts create a unique picture
about each man. Write in your notebook the things that describe you and
The next pages of your book will be about your parents.
Fill in as much as you know. Then you will probably need to ask some
questions of your parents to answer the things you do not know. Itís a
great way to learn about your parents, and since you have a list of
questions already made out, it should be a fun and interesting chat!
If you can, take your older children along so they can join in the fun of
learning about their grandparents!
Speaking of grandparents, their information is what you
need next. If your grandparents are alive, they will probably be thrilled
to answer your questions. But, if this is not possible, ask your parents
if they can tell you about their parents. Try to get "facts"
like dates, as well as "stories" about their lives.
Fill in as much as you can through these conversations.
Put a question mark beside any information that someone is not sure about.
And, at the bottom of the page, jot down who gave you the information.
If my grandmother gave me dates and facts, I would put "Information
from Ruth Lane McGary, my grandmother." Be specific and use full
names, so that in the future it will be clear to others as to where you
got your facts. Do not assume that in 30 years your children will remember
who "Uncle Mack" was; it will be unmistakable if you write
something like "Michael Edward (Mack) Stouter, uncle to your
grandfather, Steven Howard Stouter." Be specific in putting a
relationship to "who"! Your grandchildren won't know how someone
is related to another person. (All photos should be labeled with full name
and a relationship also.)
Now, review the pages you have already completed. Where
you find blanks, or missing information, you will probably need to go to
outside sources to complete the answers, especially if it is a date, a
place, or other facts (unless your grandparents know more about other past
generations). For births, marriages, and deaths county courthouses are the
place to visit. Different counties started keeping these records at
different times, so ask at the courthouse when their records start. Most
courthouses have made a list for genealogy researchers showing what
records they maintain and the span of years. If they donít have such a
list, just ask the county employees who work in those offices and jot down
the dates they tell you; this will be handy information to have later on.
You can also call your public library. They can be very helpful in giving
you basic assistance for where to find certain records.
The fun thing about beginning your genealogy record is,
the more information you collect, the more you realize what you donít
know. Questions will arise (where did my grandma live and go to school as
a little girl?) or your curiosity will be awakened (just how many acres
were in the land that grand-pap said was called Hollow Point Hollow
that his grandfather had bought?). You might wonder just how you can find
out how many siblings your step-grandmother had, or who her parents were.
The more you get into genealogy, you will hear questions
from other researchers that always start with "Did you
check...?" Over time youíll hear a list of sources (but Iíll only
give you some of them here): "Did you check... Births, Marriages,
Deaths, Wills, Accounts, Orphanís Court, Deeds, County Land Maps, County
History book called ___ (almost every county has an old county history
book or few books), Taxes, Census, Obituary/newspaper, Church Records,
Cemetery Records...." ...and many, many more.
Donít become overwhelmed when folks throw all those
names at you! All these records, and more, you will learn to use, with
ease. You will quickly learn what record to use to find certain
information. If you donít know what records would be best to check, ask
another genealogist or librarian. There are also numerous ďhow toĒ
books available in libraries, bookstores, and information guides free on
You may not think of yourself as a family historian or a
detective when you are first beginning your genealogy notes, but within a
short time you will see that you have both of those roles when doing
genealogy. An important part of your detective work will be to repeatedly
go over what information you already have, and being aware of what you
donít yet know or want to find. I know Iíve gone back to my beginning
information many times, but never saw a missing piece or a clue until a
The most important thing I can tell you though, is that
regardless of where you get information, from a person or from records,
always, always, (*always*) cite your source! Iíll cover citing sources
in another article, but the number one thing to remember is to write down
as much information about a source as you can, and put the date you got
the information. From my visit to grandmother, I would write,
"Information given by my grandmother, Ruth Lane McGary, 91 Maple
Ave., Washington, Pa., Sept. 2, 1984 ." When I contacted a distant
relative by telephone, I would write, "Information from my
great-aunt, Agnes Lahay, 724 Washington Road, Washington, Pa., Sept. 3,
1984 ." If I used a book or written source, give complete title (or
index book), author (none usually for Indices) publication date (or years
covered by Index), city where published and publication date (or county
and state for courthouse materials), the ISBN number from newer books, and
(very important) the page number (or file number etc)! And, remember to
put the Library or Courthouse name, city, county and state, because over
years you may visit numerous locations looking for information.
If you write down ALL pieces needed in a citation, then you or others can
quickly re-find the same material later.
As I said, I will cover citations and organization in more
depth in another article. For now, get started writing about yourself and
the pieces of information that makes YOU a unique person!